Monday, August 15, 2011

Allow Anna to fast…..but disallow fast unto death

Too much of the debate about Anna’s fast has been on the conditions imposed by the Delhi Police for holding the fast at JP Park. While I will talk in detail about these conditions later, I want Anna’s team to come out with their real intentions for holding the fast. If the real intention is only to protest as allowed in our democracy, then Anna should say that his fast is only for five days and no more. The protest rally itself could go on for an indefinite period (way beyond 5 days). If Anna said this, I would become an unconditional supporter of Anna’s protest (not his version of the Lokpal Bill though). But if his real intention is to commit suicide by fasting so as to shame the government into accepting his unjust demands, then I am totally on the side of the government and the Delhi Police. I am afraid the latter looks to be the real intention….

Now let’s consider the six conditions laid down by the Delhi Police which Anna’s team has rejected. Four of these conditions are 1) keeping the number of protestors under 5000, 2) protest to be limited to three days, 3) not more than 50 cars/50 bikes to be parked and 4) no tent to be pitched at the grounds. Now all of these conditions are relevant only for Delhi police because of the kind of disruption such a protest can cause to life in that area. Anyone familiar with Delhi knows how central that entire area’s location is and how much disruption to life there can be if lacs of people assemble there. The solution is simple though. Shift the fast to UP where there are huge tracts of land available. Anna’s team needn’t worry about the TV coverage….since TV crews can put up their cameras and OB vans even more comfortably there. There would also not be any traffic disruption. Why doesn’t Anna fast in UP? I simply cannot understand why the fast has to be in the heart of Delhi only. Agreed it’s the political capital….but in today’s age of TV coverage, how does it matter when the telecast originates from?

The fifth condition is about using loudspeakers after 10 pm. That’s not for any regulator to allow or disallow. The Delhi police cannot give permission because this is a restriction imposed by the Supreme Court (Of course, Anna’s team hardly respects the SC too). The order came into play even during the World Cup finals when loudspeakers – even at the stadium – had to be put off after 10 pm. Likewise, in the IPL matches, no loudspeakers were allowed post 10 pm. Event organizers know this rule only too well. Anyone organizing an event in the night – like Garba dances during Navratri – has to shut it down at 10 pm. This makes the show itself a non-starter. Imagine Garbas ending at 10 pm in Bombay, a city where people can barely make it to the grounds before then. But the rule has to be followed. No one can violate it. Sometimes, the rule looks silly – it applies even when the event is happening in the middle of nowhere…..where there is likely tobe no disturbance to anyone living in the neighbourhood. Even then, the rule has to be followed. Likewise, when a petition was filed jointly by a Congress and a BJP corporater in Pune in 2005, seeking relaxation of this rule for just the last day of Ganesh Chaturthi, the SC turned it down. If Anna wants to use loudspeakers post 10 pm, only the SC can allow him to do so.

The sixth condition is about doctors checking on Anna’s health three times a day. In my mind, this is the most important condition; testing as it does, the real intentions of the rally. If the purpose of the rally is to put pressure legally on the government, then the organizers should have no problem with this condition. But if the real motive is to whip up passions by fasting unto death (and that would surely happen), then that could lead to a law and order problem and the Delhi Police is dead right in not allowing that to happen. I wrote in my post earlier that Anna should go to the SC asking for permission for death by fasting, as a means of political protest. If he secures that permission, the Delhi Police can withdraw that condition also. But until that happens, the permission cannot be given.

There is a genuine law and order worry in any case. Should anything happen to Anna’s health, there would be mayhem all over the country. It’s easy for Anna’s team to give a commitment to the Delhi Police that there won’t be any violence. That the protests will be peaceful. Merely giving such assurances is not enough for the authorities. They are duty bound to make their own assessment of the risk. They have to consider past experiences in taking this decision. In the past, during the Babri Masjid flare up, the organizers (BJP-RSS groups) had given an assurance to no less than the Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed. And yet, when the demonic crowds pulled down that beautiful, historic structure, not only did it insult the SC, it also created a deep gash in the relationships between India’s two biggest communities. Did the BJP take responsibility for this? No way. They simply stated that the crowds went berserk and the organizers could not be held guilty for their behavior. Many have argued that the intention of the organizers was always to pull down the holy structure. Quite obviously, this movement had the sanction of a large population of UP. But did the sanction of the people justify the action? No way. The BJP benefitted politically from it; the Congress at the center took all the flak for its inaction.

It’s obviously not the Delhi Police that is taking independent calls in this matter. It’s obviously the central government which is taking the calls. But keeping past experiences in mind, what’s wrong with the decision they have taken? Suppose the crowd becomes violent, who will take responsibility? Suppose hundreds of people die in stampedes, who will take responsibility? I will tell you what Anna’s team will then say. I can almost predict it. That the police started the lathicharge that led to the stampede. It’s predictable. This is what the authorities need to keep in mind.

I am sorry but I cannot support Anna’s protests unless he gives up his blackmail of fasting to death. I cannot also support his protest unless he agrees to follow the law of the land himself. As I have suggested, he can simply move out of Delhi to UP and follow the conditions that the UP police may lay on him. Some TV panelist said yesterday that Anna does not even need to fast in Delhi. He could do it in his village in Ralegaon Siddhi (and he taunted the channel “all of you will still cover it”). Anna then wouldn’t need “anyone’s permission”, he said. Well, guess what?You will still need Maharashtra Police’s permission for the same reasons. Besides, wake up dude….the whole idea is not about protesting. The whole idea is about blackmailing the government. That’s why being next to Parliament is important.

I am all for allowing protests to happen, as long as they are peaceful. A TV anchor last night complained that by this logic, even political rallies where lacs of people assemble should not be permitted. This was easily rebutted by Harish Salve and Aryaman Sundaram that no political rally ever goes on for an indefinite period. An anchor asked the question as to why Rahul Gandhi routinely broke Section 144 wherever Mayawati imposed it in UP…..again he was quickly rebutted that so could Anna. Then Anna should face the same consequences that any ordinary person faces…..a token arrest and a dislodging from the place where the section has been imposed…..

The real truth is that there is a real divide in society today. Clearly those who are ruled by their mind are saying that Anna’s movement has gone too far; and have tacitly started understanding the government dilemma. But those who are ruled by emotions are urging Anna to even violate the laws of the land if required. For them, it’s a revolution in the making. They like to compare India with Egypt, not even understanding the differences between the two countries. These people refuse to understand logical arguments. For the government in power, they have the responsibility of ensuring law and order. For the opposition, it’s alright to play to the emotions of the people. For the Congress, it is a terrible position to be in. It must feel like it did during the days of the Babri Masjid struggle. It must have kicked itself for believing the BJP then and not taking appropriate action. This time, it wont want to repeat that mistake…..

PS: As I finish this post, I have come to know that Anna has been arrested. I am sure he will be released soon. It’s time for us to calm our nerves and focus on the corruption struggle instead of raising the pitch at this stage….It's also important for the government not to make any macho and arrogant public statements about this matter.


  1. Very insightful and eye-opening post. Prashant. Keep it coming.

  2. A really good post.

    In a david vs. goliath fight, the under dog david is always looked on favourably by the people. So Anna and team already have that advantage, which is, people "perceive" them as being right. The panel from the government should have agreed to a live televised discussion with the Anna team to draft the bill. That way they could have managed people's perceptions better. Since it was a closed door discussion, most people do not know or care to know what was put forward by the government; they are simply swayed by what Anna & team said about the discussions - that the discussions were a mockery.

  3. Any particular reason why the PMO shuldnt be in the purview of Lokpal??

    Couple of unarguable points about loudspeakers and even in the previous post on how to ensure lokpal doesnt fall into the same gutter as our govts have for the past 65 years....

    Having said that, several other opinions are quite muddled up....
    Delhi, other than being a political capital is more symbolic hence would be the obvious choice...
    "3-5 days fast", what good wud that do? Why dont we make it more convenient for the ruling govt??? Whats the point of going onto a fast if everyone knows that it will be over in 3-5 days....
    I have a feeling that this forum is fast becoming detached to what the real issue is.. that of fighting corruption and becoming more an intellectual discussion aptly done over cognac after a nice south bombay dinner...

  4. I agree with you Prashant, If we see the third angle that is still not projected we will know why the government and Delhi Police is actually disallowing Anna to fast at J.P. Park, First one is the security reason- if Anna gets harm from any of the non-supporter (we know they are many) in the rally it will be hard for the government and the police to maintain peace in the national capital and this rally could also be changed to riots thus causing loss of property and life. And this can create a worse impact of the government and the government will be considered responsible for the whole situation resulting there fall before their session completes (may be).. so Anna's security is much more important for everyone... second thing in Delhi, these rallies create problems for the common people due to the traffic caused by vehicles of media and supporters and also the fear of riots makes Delhiites restive in these situations, same thing was happened at the time of Baba Ramdev at Ajmeri Gate, that was the way to my office, I used to suffer a huge traffic jam there. So these things should be considered well before protest. Anna should protest but maintaining the law and order at the same time. He should protest in U.P. with a limited number of genuine people instead of an unknown crowd of 5K+ people...